Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Game #51: Phillies 10, Mets 6

Mets starter Dillon Gee talks things over with catcher Rob Johnson. (NYDailyNews.com)
For a short time it looked like New York would channel the play from last night's win. Instead, they pulled a Monday. And we hate Mondays.

The NY bullpen choked up 9 runs in the last 3 innings and buried the team in a hole there was no coming out of as the Mets dropped the series finale against the Phillies, 10-6.

The Bad Stuff:
  • Dillon Gee left with a 3-1 lead and the W in sight. Three pitches from Bobby Parnell later, and that was all for naught as Carlos Ruiz went deep to tie it at 3, the second time the Phillies tied it a half-inning after the Mets took the lead.
  • In the 8th, Jon Rauch put runners on the corners before striking out Ty Wigginton. Shane Victorino hit a hard sac fly to center that brought home speedy Juan Pierre to give Philadelphia the lead.
  • For the second time in three days, the Mets were down just one run in the top of the 9th, and a good showing from the bullpen would give them a good chance in the bottom half against a pitcher they had gotten to earlier in the year (Jonathan Papelbon). Unfortunately, the Mets would come up in the 9th with not a single-run deficit but one of too many to overcome. Tim Byrdak and Ramon Ramirez split the runs allowed on Jimmy Rollins's 3-run homer, and 2 more runs came in on Chris Schwinden's watch. When the dust settled it was 10-3. Even the best teams can't come back from a 7-run deficit with 3 outs to go.
  • This horrid outing skyrockets the bullpen's ERA to a major league-worst 5.45.
  • The Mr. Q Magic finally ran out as Omar Quintanilla went 0-4 with a strikeout.
The Good Stuff:
  • The bullpen's collapse wasted what would've been a really quality win by Dillon Gee, who out-dueled Cliff Lee and went 6.2 innings of 2-run, 6-hit ball, walking 1 and striking out 5.
  • New York showed their mettle in the 9th inning, fighting back for 3 runs in garbage time to cut the final deficit. Lucas Duda led off with his second home run of the game, giving him 3 on this homestand and the team lead with 7 round-trippers. Andres Torres doubled in Kirk Nieuwenhuis with 2 outs and Daniel Murphy singled Torres home to make it 6 for the home team.
  • David Wright led off the scoring in the 1st inning, just barely missing a home run to dead center but settling for an RBI double. David went just 1-5 in the game but picked up another RBI in this series.
Final Analysis:
The rough outing from the bullpen will take the headlines tomorrow morning, but that's old news already. The 3-run 9th gets rid of some of the bad taste in Met fans' mouths. Lucas Duda's hitting the ball hard now, like he should. And as the SNY crew pointed out from the Pepsi Porch in right field, that last frame was a snapshot of the team mentality on the season: even with their backs against the wall in impossible situations, they refuse to give up.

The Mets have their first off day in almost three weeks tomorrow as they get ready for a 4-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals and welcome back "party" for one Carlos Beltran. It will be interesting to see what the Amazin' faithful will do when he first comes up to the plate; expect a post from me on Rising Apple tomorrow that addresses that reunion.

MM

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Game #50: Mets 6, Phillies 3

Mets pitcher Jeremy Hefner helps his cause with a solo home run blast in the fourth inning. (NYDailyNews.com)
Four extra base hits from the 8 and 9 spots in the order? Just another day at the ballpark for the New York Mets.

Jeremy Hefner won his first game in the majors and helped his own cause with a home run and Omar Quitanilla made a splash in his return to the bigs to inspire the Mets to a solid yet soggy 6-3 win over the Phillies.

The Good Stuff:
  • He gave up a couple runs early but Jeremy Hefner was not discouraged, picking up a quality start with 6 innings of 3-run, 6-hit ball, including no walks and 4 strikeouts in his first career W. It was only Hefner's fourth major-league appearance, but it was the third in normal circumstances and the third which impressed. Last time's trouncing against the Padres was a fluke because of the rain he had to sit through; tonight's outing is closer to the Jeremy Hefner we will likely see in the future, as the Pride of Perkins, Oklahoma has earned himself another start for the orange and blue.
  • Hefner also had a big night at the plate: in the 2nd he bunted Omar Quintanilla (we'll have more on him later) to third, which set up Mike Baxter for the go-ahead RBI double. By the 4th, Hef was having so much fun out there today he said, "Hey, why don't I help out my own cause?" Not even seconds after guest Bud Harrelson declared his support for the DH, Hefner launched his first career home run to deep left to make it 4-2.
  • Speaking of having fun out there, welcome back to the major leagues, Omar Quintanilla. The 30-year-old journeyman was brought up to be shortstop after Justin Turner's placement on the DL and made a splash right of the bat. When the dust settled, he was 3-4 with 2 doubles and 2 runs scored. Hefner's earned himself another start tonight, and I'd say Mr. Q has earned himself one too.
  • Quintanilla's second two-bagger came in the 6th, just before Scott Hairston pinch-hit for Hefner. Keith Hernandez on SNY just finished expressing his preference to leave Jeremy in there to bunt again when Hairston took a 3-2 changeup from Joe Blanton and deposited it in the left field stands. It was the last pitch Blanton would throw on the night and Hairston's 6th round-tripper of the year, giving him the team lead. Said Keith: something to the tune of "Well, that's better than a bunt."
  • David Wright and Ike Davis each had RBI singles in the 1st inning to get the scoring going for New York.
  • When Hefner made his exit, the suddenly rock-solid Mets bullpen took care of the rest. Bobby Parnell got through the 7th inning in just 8 pitches and Jon Rauch gave up a leadoff single but otherwise breezed through the 8th. A rain delay of just over an hour looked like it would wash out the final frame, but when it stopped pouring, Frank Francisco took care of business with his 14th save to send those soaked few remaining from the crowd of 25,487 home happy.
The Bad Stuff:
  • Lucas Duda continues to struggle at the plate, going 0-3 with a walk and 2 Ks before being lifted for a defensive sub in the 8th. Big Dude is now down to a .245 batting average and is hitless in his last 4 games.
Final Analysis:
This is the kind of win that would've been considered Amazin' earlier in the season, especially with the lineup that was sent out to start. But dare I say it, this was a routine win for the Mets tonight. Solid pitching, clutch hitting, reliable bullpen work. It's also another case of the team not getting down on itself after a tough loss the day before.

These kinds of wins are becoming commonplace at Citi Field, thanks to the hard work of the 25 men who put on a Mets uniform. Terry Collins had it right earlier today: "When you put that uniform on, there's a certain expectation about how you're going to play." Two years ago that kind of sentiment would've gotten a laugh at the local papers, but nowadays it's becoming a matter of fact. Today, those expectations were realized. Tomorrow we expect their best as well, and we'll get it no matter the result.

MM

Monday, May 28, 2012

Game #49: Phillies 8, Mets 4

The Mets lose shortstop Justin Turner to a sprained right ankle during a rundown in the third inning. The team’s options at the position are woefully thin. (NYDailyNews.com)
On a day we use to remember, New York made it one to forget.

A couple comebacks were wasted when Manny Acosta served up a 3-run homer in the 9th that put it out of reach for the Mets, who dropped the Memorial Day affair to the Phillies, 8-4.

The Bad Stuff:
  • Jon Niese didn't have the best of outings, giving up 4 runs on 2 hits and 5 walks in 5 innings. New York bailed him out but it was definitely an L-worthy performance from Niese today.
  • Already paper-thin in the infield, the Mets suffered another injury as Justin Turner went down with a nasty ankle sprain on a rundown in the bottom of the 3rd inning. The injury turned out to be not as bad as it looked in real time, but Le Grande Orange Jr. will still miss 2-3 weeks. This forced Terry Collins to get creative with his infield: Vinny Rottino moved in from left field to third base, and David Wright took over Turner's void at shortstop.
  • After the Mets came back twice with 2-run homers (see Good Stuff below), Bobby Parnell couldn't hold back the Philadelphia bats in the 7th, as a single, walk, and 2-out single brought home the go-ahead run.
  • Even by the time the 9th inning rolled around, New York was still in it to win it: down just 5-4 with a closer they had already gotten to earlier in the year (Jonathan Papelbon), their chances were still pretty good. But Manny Acosta came in and put all those hopes to rest, allowing a 3-run homer to Ty Wigginton that ended all hopes of a comeback. Acosta's ERA now stands at 11.86 on the year, numbers that make DJ Carrasco look like Mariano Rivera.
  • David Wright grounded out to end the game and end another 0-for: Wright went 0-4 and is hitless in his last 4 games, hitting just 4 for his last 26. With dreams of .400 in the rearview mirror, now David has to focus on getting back on track and becoming the (slightly more believable) superstar he was meant to be.
The Good Stuff:
  • The Mets showed their fight in the 5th and 6th innings, coming back from 2-run deficits in each of the frames. Vinny Rottino opened the scoring with a 2-run homer in the 5th, the second of his career and second in three days. In the 6th, Scott Hairston went deep for another 2-run bomb, tying the game at 4-all and tying him with Wright and Ike Davis for the team lead in longballs with 5.
Final Analysis:
Toughest stretch of the season? You bet. Turner's injury cast a pall on the entire team this afternoon, and Acosta's latest stinker sunk the ship. If the Mets want to hold their own over this next month and be contenders post-All-Star break, two things have to happen. First, injuries need to go away quickly (a completely unpredictable phenomenon, so it will be hard to guard against. Second, Manny Acosta has got to go (a much more controllable proposition). A roster move will be required to replace Justin on the active roster tomorrow, why not bring up another reliever, as well? It'll give the man from Buffalo some company.

MM

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Game #48: Mets 2, Padres 0

Cousins Olivia Nuzzo and Stephanie Giangrande of Brooklyn display the winning banner. (NYDailyNews.com)
It was a Banner Day at Citi Field...before, during, and after the game.

R.A. Dickey turned in another superb outing and the Mets held the Padres scoreless for the second straight afternoon, winning the game and the series, 2-0.

The Good Stuff:
  • R.A. Dickey had the knuckler dancing all afternoon, turning in 7.1 shutout innings and 10 strikeouts. It was the first time a Met has thrown back-to-back double digit strikeouts since Pedro Martinez in 2006. R.A. gave up just 3 hits and didn't walk his first man until his last batter, departing to the dugout and tipping his cap to the adoring crowd of 28,361.
  • Tim Byrdak came in to clean up Dickey's mess in the 8th, taking down two San Diego hitters to send it to the 9th. Then Frank Francisco came on and retired his 10th, 11th, 12th consecutive batters to secure the victory. "Who is this guy?" quipped Howie Rose when Frank-Frank was through. This is a guy, Howie, who is back on track as a closer and has still technically only blown 2 saves in his 15 tries.
  • The Mets got all the offense they needed in the 1st inning: taking advantage of a walk-happy Edison Volquez, Daniel Murphy punched home David Wright with a 2-out RBI single.
  • In the 5th, Mike Baxter led off with a double, went to third on a wild pitch, and came home on the very next toss thanks to a passed ball given up by Nick Hundley. It was a Padre gift and gave New York a cushion it would not need in the end but was still so very nice to have.
The Bad Stuff:
  • David Wright turned in another 0-for, making it his third straight game without a hit. The slump has brought his average down to "just" .382, and it appears the chase for .400 is over before the quarter pole was even out of reach.
  • Ike Davis went 0-3 and struck out twice, snapping his brief hits and RBIs streak.
Final Analysis:
I said it on Thursday after the rain-induced loss: win the next three and it's still a successful series. Well guess what: the Mets did just that, and in grand fashion on this Memorial Day weekend, turning in back-to-back shutouts for the first time in just over a year (not to mention 26 scoreless innings overall).

The team is now comfortably 6-games over .500 as they turn into their toughest stretch of the season: Phillies, Cardinals, Nationals, Yankees, Rays, Reds, Orioles, Yankees. If they can hold their own over this next month, the New York Mets may still be legitimate contenders by the time the All-Star Break rolls around.

MM

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Game #47: Mets 9, Padres 0

Johan Santana tips his cap to the Mets faithful after his complete-game four-hitter vs. Padres Saturday. (NYDailyNews.com)
They gave him a 4-run cushion. And this time, Johan Santana didn't squander it.

Santana tossed a complete-game shutout and three home runs gave him more than enough run support as the Mets dominated the Padres, 9-0.

The Good Stuff:
  • Johan Santana got high run support his last time out in Pittsburgh, but a weak Pirate offense managed to get the best of him. This time, Santana was masterful on the mound, channeling his Cy Young-worthy days in Minnesota and pitching a complete-game 4-hit shutout in 2 hours 18 minutes and 96 pitches.
  • San Diego starter Clayton Richard also threw 96 pitches in 6 innings, but it was his first 26 that most helped the home team.
    • Andres Torres singled, then after Justin Turner flew out, David Wright drew a walk to bring up Scott Hairston. After Torres forced Richard to balk, Hairston golfed a low 3-2 fastball into the Party City Deck to give his team a 3-0 lead.
    • After Lucas Duda hit a groundball for out number 2, Vinny Rottino came up with something to prove. At age 32, career minor leaguer Rottino was still looking for his first big league home run. On a 2-1 fastball, Vinny swung and sent one that just kept going, going, going all the way over the fence. 4-0, lifelong dream realized, Mets in the lead.
  • The scoring stopped until the 8th inning when New York poured it on like the rain from Thursday night.
    • Justin Turner led off with a single against former Met Dale Thayer. After David Wright grounded out to advance Turner to second, Ike Davis came up to pinch hit. Davis had 4 RBIs in the series already and looked for more, driving a ball to the wall in left center for an RBI double.
    • Ike's resurgence would've been enough to close the story for the day, but Mike Nickeas had other ideas. Four batters later the bases were loaded for light-hitting Nickeas, and on an 0-1 fastball he swung hard and drove it hard for his second career home run, the team's first grand slam of 2012, and a nail in the Padre coffin.
The Bad Stuff:
  • First time I've got to say this this year: these kinds of games spoil us as fans! After such a great outing, just about anything that can come tomorrow will be a letdown. Well, just about everything...the only thing that could be better is the one thing that separates us from the Padres in one key category.

Final Analysis:
And I thought yesterday's win was a dominant one. Johan was vintage, the power was there, and Ike's re-surging. What could be more Amazin'? Keep it up, boys.

MM

Friday, May 25, 2012

Game #46: Mets 6, Padres 1

Lucas Duda crushes second-inning home run to tie the score against the Padres on Friday night. (NYDailyNews.com)
With the game inching closer to the variety of yesterday's laugher, the local boy reeled in the ball, the game, and eventually, the win.

Mike Baxter's game-saving catch in the 1st inspired one of Dillon Gee's best career starts and the Mets rebounded to take down the Padres, 6-1.

The Good Stuff:
  • Dillon Gee had put runners on first and third with one out in the 1st and appeared in deep trouble as Jesus Guzman launched one to left field. But the Whitestone Kid, Mike Baxter, made a leaping grab up against the wall and made a toss to first to double off Yonder Alonzo for the inning-ending double play. The first run did score, but the play seemed to energize the whole team, and San Diego would score no more.
  • The game was tied in the 2nd when Lucas Duda blasted his first home run in about a month. In the next inning, Gee helped his own cause with a 1-out double, and soon came home on another double by "my good friend Baxter over here." Baxter was in turn brought home by Kirk Nieuwenhuis on a line drive single, and all of a sudden the Mets were up 3-1.
  • New York put it away in the 5th when after Nieuwenhuis singled and Duda drew a 2-out walk, Daniel Murphy laced a double to left to score one. On the very next pitch, Ike Davis lifted a line drive into center to bring home two more and make it 6-1. It was Ike's second straight game with a 2-run single, and Met fans get more hopeful with every swing of the bat.
  • The run support was more than enough for Dillon Gee, who turned in one of his best starts as a major-leaguer, going the Solid Seven, allowing 1 run on 4 hits, and striking out a career-high 9 batters to pick up his 4th W of 2012.
  • After Gee made his exit, the New York bullpen came in and did brilliant mop-up duty: Tim Byrdak worked the equivalent of 3 Byrdak appearances by going through a whole inning, and Ramon Ramirez handled a 1-2-3 9th to secure the win.
The Bad Stuff:
  • David Wright went 0-3 with a walk to drop his average to .397, but really we're just fishing for Bad Stuff at this point; if the Mets can score 6 runs with David Wright going hitless, that's a pretty darn good day.
Final Analysis:
This is the kind of game we expected last night before the rains came. Better late than never: the Mets had solid pitching, clutch hitting, and fantastic bullpen work, and it resulted in one of the more convincing wins they've picked up this season. Ironically, it can still be counted as a comeback win: down 1, New York scored 6 unanswered runs to secure the victory. Funny how those things happen, right? One of the many, many reasons I love baseball.

MM

Game #45: Padres 11, Mets 5

The fans in San Diego must've done a rain dance, because that rain gave their team the most offense they've had all season.

Jeremy Hefner was roughed up after the rain delay and the bullpen couldn't keep it close as the Mets fell to the Padres, 11-5.

The Bad Stuff:
  • In his first big league start with his family in town from Oklahoma, Jeremy Hefner was cruising through 2 innings, getting through the first couple frames with just a hit against him in 17 pitches. Then the rains came, and Hefner's mightiest opponent tonight was the 68-minute delay. He lasted less than 2 innings more and had 6 earned runs put up against him.
    • Normally this would be a case of the Curse of Mike Pelfrey's Old Spot and Jeremy Hefner would be the third such man to try and fail to dam that river. However, considering his arm was probably a wet noodle after sitting out in the rain for an hour, I think it's fair to withhold judgment until his next start, when all is likely the rain gods will be pelting somewhere else in the majors.
  • Judgment cannot be withheld any further on Manny Acosta, however. He allowed 3 more runs in 2 relief innings and let the Padres pull away for good. With an ERA now standing at 10.80, the calls will be even louder to give him the hook. I'd have to agree: Acosta's been completely ineffective in 2012, and a trip to the minors might do him some good (it would certainly do the team some good). I can envision a scenario in which the very next pitcher to come up, starter and reliever, would put in motion Acosta's demotion.
  • Lefty Robert Carson wasn't so hot in his 2 innings either, allowing 2 more runs including a home run to the least power-effective team in the NL. I'm all for giving Carson more experience, but I thought the explanation was kind of lame: giving Tim Byrdak a few days off because he's overworked. I know he's had a lot of appearances, but the last 12 of them have been to retire a single batter. If GOB Bluth were here right now he'd have something to say about that.
The Good Stuff:
  • David Wright is a .400 hitter for at least one more day: the world's hottest hitter went 3-5 with a 1st-inning double and a 2-run homer to dead-center in the 6th, moving him into a tie with (believe it or not) Ike Davis for the team lead with 5 longballs. Wright's average stands at .405.
  • With the pressure of a potential demotion lifted from his shoulders, Ike Davis came to bat in the 8th a little less angsty and drove in 2 runs on a solid single. Any time Ike does something good, a little light goes off in our heads, and this time is no exception: maybe, just maybe, with the knowledge and relief that he won't be visiting Buffalo any time soon, Ike Davis will be able to turn the ship around.
Final Analysis:
I'm not usually one to make excuses, but I have to say the rain took this one away from the Mets. Jeremy Hefner was money on the mound before the delay, but 68 minutes later he was spent. Maybe with a regular game flow he would've gotten the job done and I'd have Good Stuff ahead of Bad Stuff after this one.

You never want to expect a sweep, although one against the hapless San Diego Padres would've been less difficult than against other potential foes. However, 3 out of 4 ain't bad. As long as the Mets limit the Padres to just one game's worth of hap this weekend, it will be a successful series and a great way to start the homestand.

MM

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Game #44: Mets 3, Pirates 1

Jon Niese throws 7-2/3 innings of one-run ball for the Mets Wednesday, picking up his third win of the season in a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. (NYDailyNews.com)
He started out the trip with a whimper, but Jon Niese closed it out with a bang.

Niese went nearly 8 innings and got all the offense he needed from Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and David Wright, as the Mets took the rubber game against the Pirates 3-1.

The Good Stuff:
  • After giving up 4 home runs in 3 innings in Toronto on Friday, Jon Niese was looking for a bounceback effort. And oh, did he bounce back: 7.2 innings, 1 run, 5 hits, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts to pick up his first W since his second start of the year.
  • New York's offense was able to give Niese a lead before he even took the mound: Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled with 1 out in the 1st, went to second on a wild pitch, took third on David Wright's flyout, and came home on a hard-hit single by Lucas Duda.
  • Nieuwenhuis returned the favor at the plate in the 5th, launching a long sac fly to left to score Rob Johnson. On the very next pitch, Wright took Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton deep, missing a home run by just a couple feet off the 20+ foot wall in right; he would have to settle for the RBI double that scored Mike Baxter and provided a comfortable cushion against the worst offensive team in the National League.
  • The Mets had that cushion and more on Monday and couldn't hold it, but Niese kept from imploding and the bullpen took care of the rest: Bobby Parnell struck out Andrew McCutchen with runners on second and third to end the 8th, and Frank Francisco delivered another 1-2-3 save, striking out 2. Frank-Frank's circus act has become less, um, "entertaining" the last few outings, as he has retired 8 men in a row. I like excitement as much as the next guy, but when it comes to my closer, I'd prefer just a stroll through the park. Francisco's headed in the right direction.
The Bad Stuff:
  • Had to fish for some Bad today but here it is: David Wright dropped under .400 for the year, going 1-4  to bring his average down to "just" .399. Wright's in what we would consider a "mini-slump": 1 for his last 8 at the plate. But if this is as rough as it gets for David this year, he'll win MVP.
Final Analysis:
It's a simple equation: Great Pitching + Clutch Hitting = Win. The Mets rode that formula all the way twice in the last 24 hours and escaped Pittsburgh with a well-deserved series win.

As tumultuous as this road trip seemed, the Mets held their own, going 3-3 and winning 3 of their last 4. The team is back up to 4 games over .500 and feeling good going home to face the hapless San Diego Padres. If they take 3 of 4 against the Friars, they'll have won 6 of 8 when the rival Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals come to town; with the momentum from the past week, New York should be able to "wipe out that excess red from their ledgers."

MM

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Game #43: Mets 3, Pirates 2

Mets starter R. A. Dickey did not issue a walk as he struck out a career high over seven innings. (NYTimes.com)
Even with Frank Francisco manning the last inning, there was no way New York was letting this W get away from R.A. Dickey.

Dickey struck out a career-high 11 batters and the Mets scored 2 runs in the 8th inning en route to a nail-biting 3-2 win over the Pirates.

The Good Stuff:
  • In baseball's ballroom of a ballpark, the knuckleball was in its spiffed up best, and one Robert Allen Dickey was its dashing escort. R.A. may as well have worn a tuxedo tonight he looked so good, going the Solid Seven allowing just 1 run on 5 hits, walking none and dishing out 11 Ks with that most baffling of all pitches. It was Dickey's 6th win in 9 starts this year, bringing him within 2 Ws of his total from all of last season. His ERA stands at a solid 3.45, and even that is misleading: 8 of those runs came in one rainy start in Atlanta; take that outing away and he's down to 2.38. He's on pace for 20 Ws in 2012, and knuckelball or not, he deserves a spot on the NL All-Star team. Here's hoping Tony La Russa isn't discriminated against the slow dancer.
  • Locked in a duel with James McDonald, a pretty good pitcher in his own right who picked up 8 Ks of his own in 7 innings, New York was tied 1-1 going into the 8th inning. After Andres Torres struck out pinch-hitting for Dickey (see Bad Stuff for more), Mike Baxter got on with a double that skipped out of Andrew McCutchen's glove in center. After Kirk Nieuwenhuis fought back an 0-2 count to draw the walk and David Wright struck out again (again, see Bad Stuff for more), Lucas Duda came up an blasted a line drive just off the mitt of Garrett Jones at first base to score Baxter and make it 2-1. Daniel Murphy then hit a line drive straight to third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who mishandled it and allowed Nieuwenhuis to score unearned.
  • After Jon Rauch let in a run but got through 2 outs in the 8th, "Big-Time Timmy-Jim" Tim Byrdak came in to strike out Alvarez and notch his astounding 12th straight one-and-done appearance. Then in the 9th, circus music all queued up as Howie Rose on WFAN called for, Frank Francisco sent Pittsburgh down 1-2-3 to end the ballgame.
    • That unearned run in the 8th turned out to be the difference. Hey, we gave them one yesterday, they decided to return the favor today. Now we're even.
The Bad Stuff:
  • David Wright had a rare rough day at the plate, going 0-4 and striking out thrice. Everyone has those kinds of days, but with David as red-hot as he's been all year, it's still jarring to see him put up an oh-fer.
  • Back to that pinch-hit in the 8th. R.A. Dickey had only thrown 89 pitches and was mowing down Pirates like he had his own lawn service, but in a tie ballgame Terry Collins opted to send out a struggling Andres Torres to try to get on base. Torres is mired in a slump and now "hitting the interstate," that is, in the .100s. Even with a pitcher up, it was a pitcher that nevertheless made contact more often than not (WFAN mentioned Dickey's only swung and missed twice all season, outstanding for a pitcher at the plate). It didn't cost the team at all in this game, but I'll question the decision to take out your red-hot (well, as "hot" as a knuckleballer can be) pitcher for a slumping pinch-hitter with an inconsistent-to-say-the-least bullpen backing the team up.
Final Analysis:
The last time R.A. Dickey set a personal strikeout record, it was around this time last year against this same Pirates team and even the same pitcher; in Game #54 last year, the Pittsburgh bats were the ones that woke up late and Dickey's stellar  outing was ruined. This time, it was R.A. who got another strikeout record, the W, and the last laugh over James McDonald and the Bucs.

It was a nice bounceback win for the Mets, who were able to put the awfulness of last night's L behind them and tie the series. One more win tomorrow afternoon and this tumultuous road trip finishes up 3-3, which you have to admit looks a lot better than it's felt.

MM

Monday, May 21, 2012

Game #42: Pirates 5, Mets 4

Johan Santana can't keep the Pirates in check on Monday night. (NYDailyNews.com)
When Pittsburgh opened up PNC Park back in 2001, it replaced the old cookie-cutter-style Three Rivers Stadium. When you replace that ugly a place with one of the most beautiful ballparks in the world, all that ugly has to go somewhere. Most of the time the Pirates themselves have absorbed all that aesthetic sin, but the Mets come in close second when it comes to bad baseball at PNC Park.

An early 4-0 lead wasn't enough as the Mets committed 3 errors that led to a Pirates comeback and a very bad 5-4 series-opening loss.

The Bad Stuff:
  • David Wright came into today with 1 error on the season, a dramatic improvement from years past. Today he regressed a bit, committing 2 key errors that almost led to Pittsburgh runs. Thing is these errors were committed after the Pirates plated their runners, so they did not have any adverse effects on the game.
  • The E in the 8th, however, had the worst kind of effect you could possibly have on a game. Tied 4-4 in the 8th, Jon Rauch got Neil Walker to hit a routine fly ball to left center, a ball which belonged to Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center. But Mike Baxter, getting some rare playing time in left field, did not back off for Nieuwenhuis to make the play; the ball trickled out of Kirk's glove as he ran into Baxter, and Walker was on with a 3-base error. Two batters later, he came home on Clint Barnes's sac fly to right, just barely sliding in under the Mike Nickeas tag after a nice throw from Lucas Duda.
  • Under normal circumstances, the Mets would have never been in this situation, allowing 5 runs to by far the worst run-scoring team in the National League. But Johan Santana picked a bad time to have a relatively rough outing. Santana allowed 4 runs on 8 hits in 6.1 innings, including 5 extra base hits: 4 doubles and the game-tying 2-run homer to Michael McKenry in the 7th. He remains stuck on 1 W for the season, but this time he wasn't robbed.
  • After a 4-run big bang in the 2nd, the New York offense would score no more, hitting 2-7 with RISP and stranding 9.
  • But perhaps the saddest part of today's loss was the continued ineffectiveness of Ike Davis. With the start at first base given to right-handed Vinny Rottino, Davis came off the bench to pinch-hit with 2 on in the 7th. As he has done all-too often in 2012, Ike struck out chasing a slider in the dirt. In the 9th, Ike came up again, this time the team's last chance against Pirate closer Joel Hanrahan. A great closer nonetheless, Hanrahan overpowered Davis on 5 fastballs to get the K and the win for his team. The worst part about this was from the get-go you knew Ike Davis had no chance. Now at .161 for the season and showing no signs of figuring it out any time soon, maybe now is the time to send him down to Buffalo for a couple weeks to see if he can figure it out. The trouble with that agonizing decision, as my dad pointed out a couple weeks ago, is there as much of a chance that going back to the minors will destroy Ike's confidence for good rather than help him build it up again. He goes down, and there's a chance we never see him again. It's an awful thing to think about, but something has do be done, for the sake of the team and Ike Davis himself.
The Good Stuff:
  • David Wright's uncharacteristic ills in the field did nothing to deter his skill at the plate: David went 2-4 with a walk and an RBI to increase his league-leading average to .415.
  • Tim Byrdak continues to be the left arm from heaven out of the bullpen: he got Pedro Alvarez to strike out swinging to end a Pirate threat in the 7th. This makes it the 10th straight appearance in which Byrdak pitched to just one man and got his man, and his 25th appearance overall in 42 games.
Final Analysis:
Maybe it was the grandeur and the beauty of PNC Park. Maybe it was the conversion back to American standards after spending the weekend (not to mention a holiday weekend) in Canada. Maybe it was the awe of playing in the city where The Dark Knight Rises was filmed (coincidentally coming out on my 21st birthday, July 20). Whatever it was, the Mets were just not in it to win it tonight. Sloppy defense, poor starting pitching, un-clutch hitting; you name it, New York had it tonight. This is one of those games you just want to put out of your head as quickly as possible. All they have to do is win the next two and it'll be out of our our memories, replaced by a successful road trip. But if the Mets drop one or two more, we'll look back on this and say, "Missed an opportunity there."

MM

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Game #41: Mets 6, Blue Jays 5

David Wright goes 2-for-4 with a walk Sunday, raising his average to .412. (NYDailyNews.com)
New York led wire-to-wire in Toronto, and though that wire was down to its last threads by the 9th, it held to the very end.

A 3-run 1st gave Dillon Gee an early lead and he and the bullpen held off a Blue Jays' offensive assault as the Mets salvaged the series finale, 6-5.

The Good Stuff:
  • The Mets got to Henderson Alvarez early: Andres Torres led off with a walk and Mike Baxter stretched a single into a double (this time without incident). David Wright drove them both home with a double and came home two batters later on Kirk Nieuwenhuis's double, which bounced out of Colby Rasmus's glove at the last second in center.
  • A red-hot Baxter brought home another in the 2nd on an RBI triple and finished the day a home run shy of the cycle.
  • New York scored 2 more in the 5th on RBIs by Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis to make it an even total of 6 runs on the day...
  • ...All of which they would need. But Dillon Gee got his job done in 6.2 innings, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits (one was a solo home run to Jose Bautista, but that guy's going to hit his against anyone; best to limit the damage and allow a 1-run shot).
  • 2 more runs came in on Bobby Parnell's watch, but Tim Byrdak got his man once again to send it to the 9th. In came Frank Francisco, who has built up a reputation even more so than K-Rod as the ultimate "tightrope closer" (Howie Rose even went so far as to say they should hand out top hats whenever he takes the mound because it's a real circus). Frank-Frank issued a leadoff walk and an opposite-field single to Bautista, but buckled down to get the next three Toronto hitters, all of them with the potential to be big boppers, to big-bop their way back to the dugout with swinging strikeouts. Eric Thames was the last to go and the Mets got out of town avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Canadians.
The Bad Stuff:
  • In a rare "high-leverage" situation, Bobby Parnell folded under the pressure in the 8th inning, giving up 2 runs and raising the blood pressure of Met fans from Long Island to Long Beach. One will remember last year when Parnell was given an audition at closer and couldn't get it done; it makes you wonder whether he's got the nerve to be a 9th inning guy. I'm in favor of giving him another chance if Francisco remains inconsistent, but if he fails again he may be doomed to the earlier innings for the rest of his career.
  • New York kept this game unnecessarily close with more than a few missed chances, leaving 11 men on and coming up short with a prime opportunity in the 8th: Ike Davis led off with a double, went to third on a passed ball, and was thrown out at the plate trying to advance on another one. Ronny Cedeno hit what would've been an RBI single a couple pitches later, and Rob Johnson followed with a base knock of his own. After Andres Torres struck out (he's cold as ice, right now hitting .200 on the dot for the year), Mike Baxter walked to set up David Wright with a prime bases-loaded opportunity. Baseball's a funny game, let me tell you: we all gawk at David's .412 batting average through this year but we forget that the best to play the game still got hits in well less than half their at-bats. Even getting hits 41% of the time, Wright's getting outs 59% of the time. This was one of those 59% times: David struck out swinging to end the threat and complete the rare 0-run, 3-hit, 3-left-on inning.
Final Analysis:
Whew! The Mets almost gave this one away, but at the last second took the offer off the table and pocketed it for themselves. They will lick their wounds going back south of the border tonight and head into Pittsburgh for the last leg of this road trip looking to take a couple games and even things out. Simply put: if they can play like they did for most of today, they'll win. If they play like they did on Friday, Saturday, and at times today, they'll lose. The question for this inconsistent bunch is which team will show up to the beautiful PNC Park tomorrow night?

MM

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Game #40: Blue Jays 2, Mets 0

Miguel Batista, left, the game in the third inning with lower-back discomfort. (NYTimes.com)
After 14 runs yesterday, Toronto may have, in fact, used up all their offense for today. Trouble is, so did New York, and they only got 5 last night.

The Mets couldn't get anything going against Brandon Morrow and were robbed of a chance when they did in the 9th as the Blue Jays clinched the series, 2-0.

The Bad Stuff:
  • For 8 innings the Mets had no answer for Toronto ace Brandon Morrow, who finished with a 3-hit shutout in just over two hours.
  • But when Morrow crossed the 100-pitch mark in the 9th, things got interesting. Scott Hairston led off with a 4-pitch walk (Morrow's only BB of the game), and two batters later Mike Baxter laced a line drive to the corner in right. Jose Bautista, who showed off his arm in the 7th just missing getting Lucas Duda out on a double, appeared to get the ball late to Jays' shortstop Yunel Escobar, who missed Baxter with the tag as Mike slid safely in to second. But umpire Brian Knight called Baxter out, blowing the call as the replay showed the tag was not even close. So instead of the tying runs on second and third with 1 out, New York had just Hairston on third with 2 down. Daniel Murphy would line out to end the game, and the Mets stayed in the dugout to stare down the umpires before departing into the the Rogers Centre visitors clubhouse, their case unheard as 34,962 Canadians celebrated above.
  • Miguel Batista departed after just 2 innings and 39 pitches with lower back pain. All I can say to that is, well...yeah! The man's 41! Shame it happened but I'm not surprised in the slightest.
The Good Stuff:
  • Between Batista and the man who replaced him, the Mets got a quality start. Jeremy Hefner, fresh up from close-by Buffalo, went 5 innings in relief and allowed just the two runs (it might've been none but Andres Torres's error in center in the 5th led to the game's only scores). Hefner's now pitched 8 innings in the bigs and allowed 2 runs. With the New York rotation in limbo and Batista's timetable for recovery uncertain, I wouldn't mind seeing Hefner, the Pride of Perkins, Oklahoma, getting the start the next time through (likely next Thursday at home against the Padres).
Final Analysis:
Ron Darling had it right when he said Brandon Morrow was throwing "Verlandian" towards the end of the game: this guy's really good and the Blue Jays are going to ride his stuff a long way this season. It was a rough loss for the Mets, but with David Wright off for the day and a soon-to-be ace on the mound for the home team, it takes the sting out of the loss a little bit.

It doesn't take the sting out of the fact that the Mets have now lost 6 of 9, however. Every team hits their rough patches, let's just hope it lasts a couple weeks instead of a couple months.

MM

Game #39: Blue Jays 14, Mets 5

Jonathon Niese is not pleased with allowing Blue Jays' Rajai Davis to round the bases on a third-inning homer. (NYDailyNews.com)
You can sum it up in four words: the backup catcher pitched. That's how bad it got tonight in Toronto.

Jon Niese and Manny Acosta got absolutely wrecked over their combined 5 innings and the Mets had no answer for the Blue Jays, who rode a power surge to a 14-5 Interleague-opening win.

The Bad Stuff:
  • After putting the first two men on in the 1st, Jon Niese appeared to be in the clear: he'd just fanned Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto's biggest power threats. All he had to do was get past J.P. Arencibia and the Mets could get back to work in the 2nd. An 89 mph cutter that didn't cut did in that notion, as Arencibia blasted it over the 100 metre sign in left. 3-0 Blue Jays, and the fun was just getting started. When the dust finally settled, Jon Niese was gone after 3 innings and 8 earned runs, 7 of which came on 4 home runs.
  • When he came out to pitch the 4th and try to keep the Jays at less than double digit runs, Manny Acosta must've confused the meaning of "anything you can do, I can do better," because he was better for the guys he was throwing to rather than those playing the artificial field behind him. Acosta gave up 5 more runs in his 2 innings of work, including Toronto's fifth home run of the night.
  • Not even these comeback kings could muster enough to overcome a couple touchdowns' worth of runs. New York had just 4 hits, batted just 1-9 with RISP, and stranded 6 men on base. But Justin Turner takes the Bad Stuff cake for the night: Le Grande Orange Jr. grounded into 2 double plays against old college roommate Ricky Romero, helping him pick up his fifth win of the year with a 6-inning, 1-run performance.
The Good Stuff:
  • A flu-ridden David Wright picked up his 1300th career hit with a ground-rule double in the 1st. A combination of being the latest on the team to pick up the disease and the awful things that can happen on the artificial turf of the Rogers Centre persuaded Terry Collins to give Wright the day off tomorrow afternoon. I can't say I disagree with that notion, and I'll bet even David wouldn't mind getting a chance to fully recover.
  • Scott Hairston's 3-run homer capped a 4-run 8th that got the Mets back within single digits on the scoreboard.
  • Lefty reliever Robert Carson made his big league debut in this ruckus, delivering a scoreless inning in the 7th.
  • Finally, what we alluded to at the beginning of the recap: yes, even Rob Johnson, given the start today behind the plate, finished the day on the other side of the battery. And to tell you the truth, he didn't do half bad: Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the 8th, even striking out the last batter with a "nasty" 87 mph fastball.
    • Why not send Acosta down and convert Rob Johnson to a bullpen pitcher AND a catcher? With the crowding that will come with Tejada, Thole, and Bay returning from the DL within a month, this would solve at least one roster spot.
    • I'm only half joking. That's how bad it's gotten after starters leave the game for New York.
Final Analysis:
After wearing their hockey sweaters up across the border, the Mets got themselves in what seemed like an actual hockey slugfest. And wouldn't you know: Canadians are pretty good at those kind of things.

If there's any saving grace to this kind of trouncing, remember last month when the Mets dropped that 18-9 affair in Colorado? They came back and won the series. Perhaps this was the strategy: let the Blue Jays hit so many home runs in one game that they're out of gas and can't do it in the next two, sneak back across to America with a series win. We'll find out soon enough.

MM

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Game #38: Mets 9, Reds 4

David Wright connects on a first-inning double Thursday, one of two doubles for the Mets' red-hot third baseman, who boosts his average to .411 with the two-hit day. (NYDailyNews.com)
Down 4 runs halfway through the game, I wonder how many Met fans forgot that their team already had a dozen comeback wins under their belts in 2012. It was certainly far from my mind, but luckily for all of us, it was fresh in the heads of the 25 guys on the field.

David Wright's 8th inning RBI double gave his team the lead and Ronny Cedeno's 3-run homer capped a string of 9 unanswered runs as the Mets roared back to hammer the Reds, 9-4.

The Good Stuff:
  • You could hear the tricklings of that famous chant, "M-V-P," throughout the afternoon crowd of just under 30,000 at Citi Field. David Wright had just launched his second double of the game to score backup catcher Rob Johnson, who barreled his way around from first after a surprising bunt to lead off the 8th. 
    • Wright had just capped an all-world performance at the plate: 2-2, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 3 runs (one still to come), and that big RBI. The man is blistering hot right now, hitting .411 and getting on base at a brain-busting rate of .513. I am certainly not the first to break out this thought in the last few days, nor will I be the last, but it must be said: extend his contract now. Make him a Met for life. Make him Captain with at capital C on his chest. Because if anyone deserves it, it is this man, who has stuck with his team through the good times and the (especially) bad. Mr. Owner has eaten his words, it's time for Sandy Alderson to eat his doubts and put something on the table.
  • Oh by the way, the rest of the offense woke up in the sun too! Lucas Duda responded to 3 runs in the top of the 5th with a 2-run double of his own in the bottom of the inning, and Mike Baxter salvaged a run on a bases-loaded sac fly in the 6th. Justin Turner's nearly identical sac fly off fireballer Aroldis Chapman in the 7th tied the game at 4, which set up Johnson's bunt and Wright's 9th-pitch double off Logan Ondrusek, who until today had not allowed an earned run this season. He would give up a few more: Turner came through again with a 2-out RBI single, which brought up light-hitting Ronny Cedeno, who launched his first home run as a Met over the Great Wall of Flushing to make it 9-4 and giving the Home Run Apple some much-needed exercise.
  • After taking over for an off-form R.A. Dickey in the 6th, the usually shaky New York bullpen fortified itself really quickly. Maybe it was cutting loose the dead weight of D.J. Carrasco, but whatever it was, it worked: Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell, and Frank Francisco combined for 3 scoreless innings to keep the potent Red bats from re-burying the Mets. Rauch and Francisco got into some trouble, but they got themselves out if it. And that's some Good Stuff.
  • Daniel Murphy "quietly" went 2-4 with a double and a run to raise his average to "just" .331 and also started a nice double play in the 6th, making a catch in deep foul ground and gunning down Joey Votto at the plate.
The Bad Stuff:
  • By R.A. Dickey standards, today wasn't so hot. 4 runs (3 earned) on 5 hits in 6 innings, although a season-high 8 strikeouts kept the Reds from putting too much wood on the ball. It's tough to evaluate the knuckleball, but from a strictly statistical standpoint, it goes under Bad Stuff. In terms of how well he through the pitch, probably somewhere in the middle; problem was when Cincy hit the ball they hit it hard.
  • Even though they plated 9 runs in the game, the Mets had their share of missed opportunities, leaving 11 men on and only scoring once each with the bases loaded in the 6th and 7th.
Final Analysis:
That's the way to finish up a homestand. While they went just 2-2, the Mets started out right and finished out right. Starting pitching, offense, and relief pitching all went M.I.A. at some point in the series, but they found their way back at the right times this afternoon.

Now the attention shifts North of the Border, where the team will make a highly-publicized "hockey holiday" to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays in the opening series of that unfortunate anomaly of the Selig Administration: Interleague Play. Everyone has their opinions on the issue, you can probably guess mine. Expect a feature-length article on Rising Apple soon when I'll go more in-depth on what I think should be done about it.

MM

***UPDATE, 9:06 p.m.***
Here is that aforementioned post for Rising Apple: "Interleague and the DH: How to Save One Travesty with Another" 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Game #37: Reds 6, Mets 3

Even with Frank Francisco cooped up far away from the mound, his nasty habit of blowing ballgames transferred to his bullpen buddies.

Cincinnati scored 4 runs in the 8th inning and the Mets offense once again wasted a solid Johan Santana start to fall to the Reds 6-3.

The Bad Stuff:
  • Up 3-2 in the top of the 8th, a usually solid Jon Rauch was brought in to be the bridge to Frank Francisco in the 9th. Frank-Frank would never get the chance: Rauch gave up 3 runs in the inning to earn the L and DJ Carrasco let one more in under his watch.
  • The New York offense probably should have been up more than just a run after facing a starting pitcher who came into the game with 5 losses and a 7+ ERA. But Mike Leake found his touch against the Mets, allowing just 1 earned run in 6 innings of work.
The Good Stuff:
  • Johan Santana tossed 6.2 innings and allowed 2 runs on 6 hits, walking 2 and striking out 5, putting himself in line for a second W that will have to wait at least another week.
  • Lucas Duda had a good day at the plate, going 3-4 with an RBI.
  • The Mets' best offense came in the 6th: Duda led off with a single and Daniel Murphy reached on a dumb throwing error by Joey Votto. Ike Davis showed signs of life with an RBI double, then after Justin Turner's popout, Mike Nickeas laid down the perfect suicide squeeze to plate Murphy; it was the team's second successful squeeze in three days.
Final Analysis:
Even the official news that Citi Field would host the 2013 All-Star Game wasn't enough put a charge through the home team tonight. The pitching wasn't awful in the beginning, but the energy has been zapped from the offense the way writing an automotive paper zaps the energy from a humanities major (of course, I'm speaking in generalities). But once the team gets through this technical paper of a stage, a burst of creativity and offense may be on the horizon. But for now, the team is destined for weak offense and sloppy metaphors from its Midwestern beat writer. Curse you, liberal arts lab science core requirement.

MM

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Game #36: Brewers 8, Mets 0

Last week it was the flu. Tonight it appears New York has been infected with both Frank Francisco's ability and, erm, "charm."

Dillon Gee was rocked on the mound and tempers flared after he left as the Brewers won a laugher over the Mets, 8-0.

The Bad Stuff:
  • By the 5th inning you figured the Mets' goose was cooked: down 2-0, Dillon Gee gave up a first home run to Travis Ishikawa on a fastball right down the wheelhouse.
    • By the next inning, that goose was taken out a tender, golden brown: a couple quick singles led to another run 2 batters later and then Ishikawa struck again for a 3-run blast to center. 7-0, Gee responsible for all of those runs, finished for the night.
    • The 7th inning wasn't pretty as the Mets decided they might as well throw a food fight in the middle of Milwaukee's nice goose dinner: after DJ Carrasco served up a home run to Ricky Weeks, who broke an 0-fer-20-plus streak, Carrasco plunked Ryan Braun in the left shoulder, prompting an immediate ejection. We don't know whether it was intentional, but after Keith Hernandez's explanation on this point in DJ's career, I'm guessing it wasn't. No matter; ump's word is final.
  • The biggest fallout from the Braun plunking came in the next half inning as David Wright, already 2-2 for the night, was lifted for Jordany Valdespin to pinch hit. Terry Collins apparently removed a visibly upset Wright from the game in fear of retaliation from Brewer pitching over Braun.
  • The Met offense made due with 3 hits yesterday, plating 3 runs, but tonight even with 6 hits they couldn't score against Zach Greinke and company. Greinke went the Solid Seven and Tim Dillard & John Axford came in to clean up the mess from the food fight.
The Good Stuff:
  • Give me a sec...
  • ...Hmm...
  • ...Oh, I've got one: in 36 games this season, the New York Mets have yet to wear a uniform with any hint of black on it. That right there is Good Stuff.
  • ...Doesn't make you feel any better? Yeah, me neither. Let's just get to Final Analysis and call it a night.
Final Analysis:
This short series with the Brewers couldn't end soon enough. The offense was pretty much anemic in these 2 games, and only a miracle outing by Miguel Batista saved a 3-game losing streak. And that mini-scuffle between Terry Collins and David Wright has me worried. Brian Erni of MetsBlog has already noted the two seem to have patched it up in the later innings, but the video is forever. On a dark, wet night at Citi Field, Mets fans can't help but wonder: is there a storm on the horizon? And what sort of collateral damage will it do to a team that without a couple blown saves last weekend would be in first place?

MM

Monday, May 14, 2012

Game #35: Mets 3, Brewers 1

The Mets’ Miguel Batista threw seven shutout innings Monday night against the Brewers at Citi Field. (NYTimes.com)
On a day when hits were few and far between, the Mets called on some "old magic" to get them a big win. Emphasis on "old," but just as much emphasis on "magic."

Miguel Batista pitched a surprising 7-inning shutout and the Mets' 3 hits were enough to fuel a series-opening win over the Brewers, 3-1.

The Good Stuff:
  • Since Miguel Batista's 2-hit shutout in last season's finale, the 41-year-old veteran looked like he'd been spent on the mound. Not expected to be a starter, he had to fill the role when Mike Pelfrey went down and Chris Schwinden proved ineffective. Every start could potentially be his last, but today at least, Batista earned himself another goaround, tossing the Solid Seven: 7 innings of 4-hit shutout ball, walking just 1 and striking out 5 on 108 pitches. You can't ask for much more than 7 innings out of a pitcher nowadays, and the Mets got that from Miguel Batista tonight. It's games like this that would make you feel comfortable as a rotation fill-in, at least until Chris Young is ready to rejoin the club next month.
  • New York sure needed that performance from Batista, as the team only managed 3 hits against Yovani Gallardo and the Milwaukee pitchers. They did draw 6 walks, however, which led to a run in the 1st when Daniel Murphy singled home Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
  • Murphy had 2 of the Mets' 3 hits on the day, including a double in the 6th that set up Ronny Cedeno's perfectly executed suicide squeeze to make it 2-0.
  • Knowing the current Met closer named Francisco was ready for the 9th, New York salvaged one more run off their old closer named Francisco, Francisco Rodriguez, in the 8th. David Wright doubled, went to third on Lucas Duda's groundout, and came home when Daniel Murphy put it in play; Wright was caught in a rundown but Brewer third baseman Aramis Ramirez dropped the ball on the glove-to-hand transfer and David scored standing up. 3-0.
  • After Batista made his exit, Tim Byrdak got his man again to lead off the 8th, and Bobby Parnell needed all of 5 pitches to get the last 2 outs to send it to the 9th...
  • ...Which was not completely blown by Franks Francisco, who got George Kottaras to fly out deep to right to "put it in the books!" Howie Rose on WFAN followed up his catchphrase with the all-too-appropriate, "and...exhale."
The Bad Stuff:
  • That extra run was all too important because of what closer "for the moment" Frank Francisco did on the mound, allowing one run to score and the tying runs to get aboard. Frank-Frank did nothing to improve my confidence in him tonight. If he managed to almost give it up to the back end of an injury-ravaged (even more so than us) Milwaukee team, how's he going to get out Joey Votto or Matt Kemp? The moment has passed for this "closer for the moment;" it's time for Terry Collins to look elsewhere.
  • Speaking of moments, it's moment after moment of at-bat agony for Ike Davis, who went 0-4 with 2 Ks on the night. Ike is now hitting a mind-numbing 3-53 at home. That's an .057 batting average at home. Almost one fifth of the way through the season. The only explanation I have is that maybe the Valley Fever is more serious then we thought. I'm starting to really worry about the future of our home-grown slugger of a first baseman, whose slugging days seem to have gone up and vanished in the wind a la Jason Bay.
Final Analysis:
When the offense only has 3 hits on the day and you still win by 2 runs,  that's a darn good pitching effort. Don't let Francisco's near meltdown let you forget the Mets got an extraordinary performance from Miguel Batista and a bullpen that has a few good men. A win's a win, and Met fans will take anything after the relative lashing in Miami.

MM

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Game #34: Marlins 8, Mets 4

Mets Manager Terry Collins tried to keep closer Frank Francisco away from the home plate umpire Todd Tichenor in the ninth. (NYTimes.com)
On Mother's Day, Frank Francisco delivered the mother of all meltdowns, and New York paid for it.

Giancarlo Stanton's walk-off grand slam punctuated a dismal 9th inning for the Mets bullpen, as the game and the series went to the Marlins 8-4.

The Bad Stuff:
  • After re-taking a dramatic lead in the top of the 9th (see Good Stuff for what might have been), Frank Francisco was brought on to redeem himself after a blown save on Friday night. Redemption he would not earn: Emilio Bonifacio laced a leadoff triple (the same way he led off the 7th when John Buck homered off Ramon Ramirez) to bring up Buck again. After two borderline strikes went Buck's way, Francisco issued the walk and let a run come in on Gregg Dobbs's RBI single. The Mets had seen enough of Frank-Frank, but he wasn't finished with home plate ump Todd Tichenor; Francisco blew up in the man's face and had to be restrained by Terry Collins and fill-in Third Base Coach Bob Geren after being ejected.
    • Manny Acosta was brought into an impossible situation: first and third with none out, one-run lead to hold; and quickly let in the tying run on Jose Reyes's sac fly. (Unfortunately in that situation Acosta gets the blown save, while Francisco only gets the blown gasket.) After getting Omar Infante to pop up, Manny walked Hanley Ramirez and beaned Austin Kearns to bring up Giancarlo Stanton. At this point, Mets fans probably knew their team's fate...the only question is how Stanton would deliver the poison. He chose the "grand slam" variety. Game over, doesn't even look close in the end.
The Good Stuff:
  • The bullpen's implosion destroys all the Good Stuff that was the making of another road series win. Jon Niese got out of a few early jams and pitched 6 innings of shutout ball, giving up 5 hits, walking 3, and striking out 4 to lower his ERA down to 3.40.
  • New York got 2 runs in the 4th inning after Lucas Duda's groundout and Daniel Murphy's opposite-field single brought home Kirk Nieuwenhuis and David Wright respectively.
  • Tied 2-2 in the 9th, Miami brought on Heath Bell to get the team to the bottom half. It didn't quite go the way they wanted: Daniel Murphy doubled with 1 out, then after Ronny Cedeno walked, Jordany Valdespin grouned them over to second and third. Pinch-hitter Mike Baxter was intentionally walked, bringing up Justin Turner. You will recall Turner-Bell I from two and a half weeks ago...Le Grande Orange Jr. only needed 7 pitches this time, smacking a 2-run double to right to give New York the lead and all but reassured that the Mets own Heath Bell. Unfortunately because of arcane baseball rules, Bell will end up with the W on the afternoon. Ouch.
Final Analysis:
The first screws have come loose on this team, and in all seriousness, did you expect it from anyone else than a closer named "Francisco"? The Mets have not had their best luck with those two combinations, and this weekend a 6-0 stellar road trip became a 4-2 just good road trip, one which the team will finish up with a more-than-sour taste in their mouths. Frank-Frank's ERA is up to a gut-wrenching 8.56, and Manny Acosta (who shouldn't have been in there in the first place) is up to a dismal 9.53. The Achilles heel of this 2012 edition Mets team has been all but revealed, and it might be time to seek an upgrade from Mr. Tantrum. Perhaps it is time to give Bobby Parnell another look at closer, or even Jon Rauch, who got his ERA under 3 with a perfect 8th this afternoon. Whatever the case, the Mets have to patch up this leak fast before it gets any wider and gushes out more and more potential wins.

MM

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Game #33: Mets 9, Marlins 3

David Wright collects four more hits, including a homer in the third inning, to pace the NY Mets offense. (NYDailyNews.com)
On a bounce back afternoon, New York went with "superball," while Miami was the dead cat at Marlins Park.

David Wright's home run highlighted a 4-hit day and R.A. Dickey turned in another quality start as the Mets topped the Marlins 9-3.

The Good Stuff:
  • The Mets bats got going from the very start against Ricky Nolasco: David Wright knocked in Andres Torres after a couple walks to put New York up 1-0 early. In the top of the 3rd, Wright blasted a solo shot to the opposite field to make it 2-1.
  • Up 3-1 in the 5th, the Mets pounded in 3 more runs when R.A. Dickey was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, and Torres drove home 2 more 2 pitches later.
  • New York added 1 more run each in the 6th, 8th, and 9th. The top offensive numbers of the day belonged to:
    • David Wright (4-6, HR, 2 R, 3 RBIs - David's now batting .402 on the year)
    • Lucas Duda (3-6)
    • Daniel Murphy (3-4, 2 R, 1 RBI)
    • Andres Torres (1-3, 2 BBs, 1 R, 2 RBIs)
  • All that run support was more than enough for R.A. Dickey, who turned in a 6 inning, 2 run, 9 hit performance to go to 5-1 on the season. Aside from that one shelling in Atlanta, Dickey's been All-Star caliber in 2012; his 3.65 ERA definitely doesn't tell the whole story. I just hope Tony La Russa takes that into account when selecting his 2012 NL All Star team.
  • Bobby Parnell went 1-2-3 in the 8th and DJ Carrasco pitched a scoreless 9th to give the Mets their 6th win in 7 tries.
The Bad Stuff:
  • Ike Davis was the only Met position starter to go hitless in the 16-hit effort; he went 0-5 with 2 Ks, dropping back down to a .175 batting average on the year.
  • Manny Acosta didn't make it out of the 7th without allowing a run and a couple hits; perhaps it was just fatigue.
  • No one could get Jose Reyes out on the day; Jose went 4-5 with a run to bring his average up to a more respectable .256.
Final Analysis:
That's more like it! Great hitting, great pitching, decent bullpen work. What it means is a 19-14 record and assurance of a winning record on this NL East road trip. The Mets are playing great right now, and it's showing in the standings. Once Tejada and Thole get back from injuries, it's only gonna get better. It's a good time to be a Mets fan.

MM

Friday, May 11, 2012

Game #32: Marlins 6, Mets 5

Third base coach Joey Espada congratulates Marlins' Jose Reyes, who hits a triple off former teammate Johan Santana in the first inning. (NYDailyNews.com)
Well...turns out other teams can come back and win games too.

After taking the lead in the 8th, Frank Francisco and the Mets bullpen couldn't hold on against the Marlins, who rode a walk-off single by Greg Dobbs to a 6-5 victory.

The Bad Stuff:
  • This was the 8,000th game in New York Mets history, and with a Jose Reyes triple to lead off 1st inning, the 8,000th game the Mets have allowed at least one hit. At least they got that out of the way early. Three runs came in on Johan Santana in that 1st inning, Reyes coming home on an Omar Infante single and Austin Kearns homering home the rest.
  • Down 3-0 early, New York clawed its way back to take a 5-3 lead in the 8th (see Good Stuff for more), but Daniel Murphy grounded out with the bases loaded to leave a few more runs on the bases...
  • ...Runs the Mets would end up needing: Ike Davis committed a silly and rather costly error on a Reyes groundball in the 8th, and Jose flashed his famous speed to score on an Infante double soon after to make it 5-4.
  • After sitting down in order in the top of the 9th, Frank Francisco was 3 outs away from giving the Mets their 6th straight win and 12th of the come-from-behind variety. It was not to be: Giancarlo Stanton lashed a blistering double to the left center wall and scored on an Emilio Bonifacio single two batters later to tie the game. The speedy Bonifacio stole second and came home on Dobbs's single. Game over, comeback victory to the other guys tonight.
    • While he's 8/10 in save opportunities this season, Frank-Frank hasn't looked too good doing it: his ERA after tonight's trouncing ballooned to 6.59, reaching above even DJ Carrasco territory. With other guys like Bobby Parnell (who was hurt by Davis's error in the 8th) having good seasons thusfar, Francisco had best step up his game or suffer the fate of Heath Bell, his Miami counterpart, who lost the closer's job last week (although he seems to have taken it back by now).
The Good Stuff:
  • Santana settled down after the 1st inning, limiting the damage to just those 3 runs on 6 hits in 6 innings, walking no one and striking out 7. He threw only 82 pitches so he likely would've gotten another inning or two had he not been pinch-hit for.
  • Before surrendering the game's final 3 runs, the Mets tagged Miami pitching for 5 unanswered after falling behind early. Ike Davis hit a solo home run off Mark Buehrle in the 5th and Mike Nickeas doubled home a run in the 7th.
  • The 8th was when things got really good: David Wright led off with a double (he finished 3-5, continuing his blistering start) and went to third on a Lucas Duda groundout (Big Dude finished a decent 2-5). Kirk Nieuwenhuis came on to pinch hit and laced a double to right to score David. Tie ballgame. Ike Davis was walked intentionally and Ronny Cedeno drew a bases on balls of his own to load 'em for Mike Baxter. The Whitestone Kid continues to make a name as New York's best bat of the bench, poking a 2-run double over the shortstop's head, just like Keith Hernandez predicted, to make it 5-3. Baxter is now 6-15 this season pinch hitting.
Final Analysis:
The SNY guys had it right tonight: the Marlins gave the Mets a taste of their own medicine, coming back to win after surrendering a comeback of their own just an inning earlier. The L ends the Mets' 8,000th game on a disappointing note and kills their 5-game winning streak.

Tomorrow afternoon R.A. Dickey will look to put tonight behind his team and look to vanquish a foe who has won 9 of their last 10. It'll be a bounceback game for the Mets, the only question is whether they'll bounce like a superball or a dead cat. Let's hope they choose superball.

MM

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Come On Up For The Rising (Apple)

The Mets are off tonight, resting and relaxing in South Beach as they prepare for a weekend bout with the Miami Marlins. But while the team may have the day off, the blogosphere does not. And with another day comes a major announcement from this blogger:

Yesterday I was officially named a new staff writer on Rising Apple, a New York Mets blog and part of the FanSided sports blogging community. My first post went online early this morning; you can find the link at the end of this post. This is quite an exciting, exhilarating time for me. I'm very grateful for this opportunity to write for a more extended community of Mets fans and sports enthusiasts.

You may be thinking at this point, I've seen this post before: it means *this* blog is done for, right? Not so much, Random Italic Questioner. I will continue to write Midwestern Met in addition to providing my say on Rising Apple. You will still receive "Amazin' Analysis from 760 Miles Away" at this web site, which will now include links to my pieces at RA.

Here are a few important links:
risingapple.com - the hub of the site I'll be writing for
risingapple.com/author/midwesternmet/ - this is my personal page on RA, where you'll find my bio and any pieces I've written
risingapple.com/2012/05/10/a-bug-for-all-seasons/ - this is my first piece for RA, "A Bug for All Seasons," about the various injuries that have befallen the Mets since they moved to Citi Field.

That should do it for now. Enjoy the off day, and let's make it 6 in a row tomorrow!

Will DeBoer
(MM)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Game #31: Mets 10, Phillies 6

Ike Davis hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning against the Phillies' relief pitcher Jose Contreras. (NYTimes.com)
The rain started falling in the top of the 7th, from the clouds in the sky and the bats at the plate. And boy let me tell you, in Philadelphia, when it rains, it pours.

The Mets held their own against Cliff Lee and pounded out 8 runs in the last 3 innings, highlighted by an absolute bomb by Ike Davis, to take the game and a sweep of the Phillies, 10-6.

The Good Stuff:
  • You could sense it for 6 whole innings: the Mets were biding their time. Yes, they were down 4-2 and had only 9 outs to make up the deficit. But the hard part was done. Cliff Lee was gone from the game. Terry's boys had held their own against him, getting 2 runs across the plate and keeping the game in striking distance. The Phillies were sending out a bullpen they had gotten to each of the last two nights. Baseball is a game of momentum, which the Mets had an ample supply of, and Kyle Kendrick was about to feel its blunt force.
    • Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who started on the bench against lefty Lee, led off the 7th with a pinch-hit walk. Justin Turner then followed with a double to cut the deficit in half. After Ike Davis doubled and sent Turner to third (see Bad Stuff for clarification on that seemingly non sequitur), light-hitting reserve catcher Rob Johnson took a 4-pitch walk. Lucas Duda came up to pinch hit and was plunked in the back. Tie ballgame. Andres Torres put the team up with an RBI groundout the next at-bat and Daniel Murphy hit into a double play to end the inning, so even with a 5-4 lead you knew the Mets were hungry for more. The Feast of Kendrick was far from over.
    • After having already blown the save, Charlie Manuel still elected to send Kendrick out for the start of the 8th. He was rewarded with the quickest Groundhog Day I've seen in a while: David Wright and Scott Hairston led off with back-to-back doubles, making it 6-4. That was it for Kenrick, who was finally relieved for old man Jose Contreras. He got Nieuwenhuis to strike out swinging and Turner to hit a long fly to right, but the usually sure-handed Hunter Pence had a spell of generosity, dropping the ball and allowing Justin to reach on an error. Enter Ike Davis, already hot from the last at bat, looking to put the final nail in the Philly coffin. He brought the biggest hammer he could, blasting a 2-0 pitch off the second deck of Citizens Bank Park to make it 9-4 and send a mass of Phillies fans on an exodus to the gates.
    • It was almost an afterthought, but the Mets added one more in the 9th as Andres Torres went deep off Brian Sanches for his first home run with the team. It was the first time all year New York made it for double-digit runs.
  • In all the chaos the Mets' bats caused tonight, here's the statlines that really stand out:
    • Ike Davis: 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBIs (should've been 4 - see Bad Stuff)
    • Andres Torres:  2-4, 3B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBIs
    • David Wright/Scott Hairston: 2-5, 2B, R, RBI each
  • Tim Byrdak got out of the 6th inning and picked up the W, and Manny Acosta followed with another nice outing, a 1-2-3 affair in the 7th. Jon Rauch and DJ Carrasco (making his first appearance of the year) gave up runs but did enough to keep the Phillies mostly at bay.
  • Another stat that may go unnoticed, but was pointed out by Howie Rose and Ed Coleman on WFAN: New York pitchers didn't issue any walks. 15 hits, yes, but 0 BBs. That'll do.
The Bad Stuff:
  • Now about that 4th RBI that Ike should've had...Justin Turner was on second after his RBI double but only went to third on Davis's double, thinking Shane Victorino had a play on it and going back to second to tag. No harm in the game, Turner would eventually score on Lucas Duda's HBP, but I think it merits some exasperation. GOB, would you do the honors?
  • Dillon Gee went 5.2 innings, allowing 4 runs on 10 hits. Yes, he did keep Philadelphia from getting too far in front, but it goes under Bad Stuff because I think he can do much better, and probably should have against a flimsy Philly offense.
  • ...Led by Mr. Flimsy-at-the-Plate, second baseman Freddy Galvis. Coming into tonight's game, the rookie was hitting .189 and an OPS of .504. Tonight Galvis went 3-4 with a double, triple, run and 3 RBIs. Hey GOB, you still around?
Final Analysis:
This was about the most Amazin' series the Mets could have possibly had: a sweep of the archrival Phillies (their first in Philadelphia since 2006), comeback wins in all 3 games against a less-then-stellar bullpen (after all these years of having the same condition ourselves, I'll bet it was nice for New York fans to have a healthy dose of schadenfreude). In addition to a trifecta of wins in the City of Brotherly Love, the Mets have achieved another trifecta of accomplishments: a 5-game winning streak, their longest of the season; 5 games over .500 at 18-13, their highest point in nearly 2 years; and 11 come-from-behind wins, good for tops in all the major leagues.

Tonight will do wonders for the team's momentum going down to South Beach to break in Marlins Park. All I can say is, watch out Heath Bell. We're about to have some fun in the sun.

MM

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Game #30: Mets 7, Phillies 4

Phillies' Juan Pierre slides into second base ahead of the tag by the Mets' Jordany Valdespin. (NYDailyNews.com)
Down but not out has been the Mets' mantra in 2012. Such was the case again when New York fell behind early at Citizens Bank Park.

The Mets scored 7 unanswered runs, including 4 in the 7th, to steal the game and the series from the Phillies, 7-4.

The Good Stuff:
  • Philadelphia scored 2 runs each in the 1st and 2nd to take an early 4-0 lead. Whereas for many teams this may have been time to signal the white flag, the New York Mets went ahead and said, "We've got them right were we want them." Boy did they ever.
    • The first run came in the top of the 4th: Kirk Nieuwenhuis led off with a double and came in two batters later on a single by Daniel Murphy. 4-1, chipping away.
    • Jordany Valdespin led off the 7th with a walk, but two quick outs hurt the team's chances of plating him. But the floodgates were opening fast: Andres Torres singled. Nieuwenhuis singled home Valdespin. 4-2. Pitching change. David Wright singles to right to score Torres. 4-3. But the play wasn't over: Wright gets caught in a rundown between first and second. This gives Nieuwenhuis the chance to feint enough off of third to attract Pete Orr's attention. Panicked, Orr's throw to third is wild, Kirk comes home, and David goes to third. 4-4. Lucas Duda then singles home Wright to give the Mets an improbable 5-4 lead.
    • New York would add more in the 9th: Mike Baxter led off with a walk (making it the 6th straight inning the Mets got the leadoff man on) and went to third on Torres's single. Nieuwenhuis hit a deep sac fly that scored Baxter and sent Torres to second. Two batters later, Duda singled home Torres to make it the final line, 7-4.
  • Despite the 2 errors, the Mets' glove were on display in a good way tonight. David Wright had a Web Gem in the 7th to save a big hit, and Daniel Murphy had two of his own at second base in the 8th.
  • After Batista muddled through 5.1 innings, the bullpen came in and took care of the rest. Manny Acosta got the W with 2/3 of an inning in relief and was followed by solid performances from Ramon Ramirez, Tim Byrdak, and Jon Rauch, who picked up his first save with the Mets and sent a dejected Philly crowd home unhappy.
The Bad Stuff:
  • The search for a viable Mike Pelfrey replacement in the rotation continued tonight: this time it was Miguel Batista's turn to come on down. He was given a rude welcome by the Phillie bats: 4 runs (2 earned) on 8 hits in 5.1 innings. He settled down after the 2nd, but the aura surrounding his start is way off (or something like that).
  • Josh Thole became the latest victim of the Injury Bug, going on the 7-day DL with concussion-like symptoms. Catcher Rob Johnson was brought up from Triple A Buffalo to fill the vacancy.
Final Analysis:
"Never give up, never surrender." New York didn't give up, scored a majority of their runs with 2 outs, and the result was their 4th straight win, which puts them 4 games over .500 again. Of the Mets' 17 wins this year, 10 have been of the come-from-behind variety, tied for first in the National League with the Atlanta Braves. Simply put, these guys do not quit. Credit goes to Terry Collins for creating a positive atmosphere, as well as to these scrappy, young men who have bought into a winning attitude. These guys are winning and having fun doing it. What more can you ask for?

MM

Monday, May 7, 2012

Game #29: Mets 5, Phillies 2

Jordany Valdespin rounded the bases on a three-run homer, his first major league hit. (NYTimes.com)
Valdespin? Try Valde-smash.

Jordany Valdespin blasted a 3-run homer in the top of the 9th for his first big league hit and gave the Mets a thrilling 5-2 come-from-behind victory over the Phillies.

The Good Stuff:
  • With Roy Halladay on the mound it didn't appear things would be so good for New York on this night. With a 2-0 lead early, Doc Halladay was cruising, at one point retiring 13 straight batters. But the 14th was Andres Torres, who drew a 2-out walk in the 6th. Kirk Nieuwenhuis followed with a single to bring up David Wright. A Phillie Killer in his own right, David laced a double down the third base line that took a weird hop off the fence and allowed both runners to score. Down and out, within 13 pitches the Mets were right back in it.
  • In the 9th, Philadelphia brought on Jonathan Papelbon to try to send it to extras. Ike Davis's full count walk was sandwiched between strikeouts by Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner, bringing up Mike Nickeas, into the game for an injured Josh Thole (see Bad Stuff). Usually an easy out, Nickeas showed a touch of power, smashing a double to the left field corner to put runners on second and third with 2 out. Enter Jordany Valdespin, called up again after the injury to Ruben Tejada, and still looking for his first hit in the majors. Welcome to the big leagues, kid: Valdespin took an 0-1 splitter from Papelbon and deposited it into the right field stands on a monstrous golf shot.
  • Frank Francisco came in to slam the door on the deflated Phillies, only needing 5 pitches to sit them down 1-2-3 and give the Mets their third straight win and Valdespin his first career pie in the face from Justin Turner.
  • Things didn't start out looking so great: Jon Niese had allowed a run in each of the first 2 innings, but he settled down and grinded out 5 long innings of 4-hit ball to keep it close.
  • Manny Acosta had a perfect 6th inning and handed off to Bobby Parnell, who loaded the bases in the 7th but got Hunter Pence to ground into a double play that was made possible by interference from Shane Victorino, who slid out of his way to mess up the throw from Justin Turner to Ike Davis. Parnell got into a jam in the 8th as well, but got 2 outs and made way for Tim Byrdak to strike out the third (Byrdak would pick up the W on the night).
The Bad Stuff:
  • Josh Thole put a tag to Ty Wigginton in the 8th for a force at home, but Wigginton slid hard into him and Thole left with an apparent head injury. Let's hope it's nothing too serious, certainly not a concussion.
Final Analysis:
You could just hear it in Gary Cohen's voice when Valdespin launched his rocket in the 9th: total pure excitement. That's what tonight's game was for Met fans: first knocking out your archrivals, second doing it against baseball's best pitcher, and third with darn good closer on the mound, another promising youngster coming through. The result was New York's 3rd win in 4 tries in Citizens Bank Park this year and a 3-game winning streak. How much more Amazin' can you get in May?

MM